Monday, March 9, 2015

The Business of Writing: Getting Books on the Shelves of Independent Bookstores - 20 Tips!

Meeting with independent bookstore owners, I've gained a few insights on how best to get my books on their shelves.

Here's What I've Learned:

1. Dress nice, but not too nice unless you live in a region where business suits are the norm. I wear nice jeans/casual slacks and a nice knit or button-up top when I go into a bookstore to talk to the owner for the first time, or even to find out when I can talk to the owner.

2. Stalk the bookstore blog/website/facebook page first. See if they support indie or small press writers with events or signings.

3. If possible, visit the store as a customer beforehand, even if you don't have a ton of money to spend on books. See what's on the shelves. Be friendly. (Don't ask for any info yet.)

4. When it's time to meet the owner, bring a business card, a half-page to one-page promotional flyer/info sheet about you and -.

5. Bring your books - but don't bring more than three copies. (Don't look desperate!)

6. Introduce yourself. Tell them you are a indie or small press author, and ask them if they could sell your books on their shelves.

7. Offer (this is a risk) to let them read your book before they carry it. (Do not leave books with a bookstore employee, only with the owner.)

8. If they wish to read your book before they carry it on their shelves, have a clear time frame for a second conversation - two weeks to a month is usually good. (If they ask for more time, consider it, but also consider that I had a bookstore owner completely "forget" about my book after two months.)

9. Be prepared for them to ask to sell your book on commission. This means that you won't get paid until they get paid. However, remember, they are taking a risk on a new, unknown author whose book may sit on their shelves for a year without selling. (See note on #12)

10. If you find a bookstore owner that is willing to pay you upfront for copies of your books, rejoice - you have just found the rarest of bookstore owners.

11. Don't "pay" them to keep your book on their shelves unless you are really certain that their bookstore is going to get you lots of customers. (I've been in a bookstore that expects authors to pay for shelf space and sell only on commission - I don't think that's a deal that works for me.)

12. Find out what shelf the bookstore owner is going to place your book on - the "local author" shelf, the "genre" shelf that fits your book, or? Also, find out if this is a prominent shelf or one that's near the floor in dusty corner. (This happened to me - the owner put my books in a dusty, unseen corner by the floor and not a single book sold even though I sent friends to "find" my book there. Guess what? My friends found my book at a different store.)

13. Ask for a book signing or offer a book/writer talk/event. Bookstore owners like these - it draws in customers. They really like them if you plan in advance and plan to contact the local newspaper, and put up flyers around town.

14. Have a "wholesale" and a sale price in mind when you approach a bookstore owner. If you are small press, this may not be an issue. As an indie author, I "wholesale" my books to the bookstore, and they receive the profit above that price. Is it worth it? Yes. I take into account what the book and shipping costs, then I add the same amount of profit I would make through amazon, and then I ask for that "wholesale" price. Does the bookstore owner make more than I do? Yes, but the bookstore owner has a storefront to lease and employees to pay.

15. If the bookstore owner wants to charge more for your book than Amazon does, let them. They may only have five or six people in their store in an hour . . . or less. Each book sale matters to them. They also know what their customers are willing to pay per book. You may feel "left out" of the profit, but having your book on a bookstore shelf is about getting "known to readers" as well as "sales." (At this point, you might also gently haggle for a better "wholesale" price - this depends on the owner and the friendliness level.)

16. Remember, independent bookstore owners and most small retail business are suffering right now. Online sales and competitions from big box stores are hurting them. (Don't flaunt your kindle sales!)

17. Be professional. Even if a bookstore owner isn't nice to you, or doesn't say yes, just smile, thank them, and exit the store. Tears, tantrums, and crabbiness can always take place at home, or inside the car, preferably after you are out of their parking lot and near the closest coffee shop.

18. Reward yourself for being brave enough to go into the bookstore and put yourself out there. Even if they said no, celebrate your courage and your professionalism!

19. If your book makes it onto the shelves of a small bookstore, send friends, family, and acquaintances there to shop. Tell them how wonderful the bookstore owner is, and how nice it is to have your book in a store. Help the bookstore get business. More business for them means more business for your books.

20. If your book made it onto the shelves, you now have a relationship with that bookstore owner. Keep the relationship alive. Stop by the store every month or two. Chat with them. Buy a book there. Offer another event.

Repeat #18!


42 comments:

Trisha F said...

Excellent advice!
Clearly we learn by doing - and you've learned a lot ! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Offering to do an event is a good idea. Then you can move more books that way.

Julie Dao said...

Such great advice, Tyrean! I've been so involved in the "writing" part of writing that I haven't given much thought to the marketing side. Offering to let the bookseller read your book first is a great way to get them interested and maybe even recommend to customers when they decide to sell it :)

Lisa said...

Thanks for this advice! I'd never have thought to do some of these, and hope to put them in to practice soon! Good luck!

Shelley Sly said...

This is very helpful advice! I've already found a handful of bookstores that I'd like to check out, once I have the time. Thanks for helping me be more prepared!

Cherie Reich said...

Wonderful tips! I need to do #20. I have my books in a local store, but I haven't been back since my signing (bad weather, don't head out that way often, too many excuses--some good, some bad).

Natalie Aguirre said...

These are all really great tips. If I have a book to sell someday, I'm going to check this post out.

Nick Wilford said...

This is very comprehensive advice! I wouldn't have thought of most of it. There aren't any bookstores in my town at all, but you've inspired me to look further afield.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I have mine in a few book stores, but I need to get out and find more. Indy book store owners rock. Excellent people to meet. And I'm with you, I will lose money to help them compete...I understand what it's like to be the little guy!

DL Hammons said...

Excellent post...and properly bookmarked for future reference! :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks, Trisha! I keep just trying and trying again.

Tyrean Martinson said...

That's the hope for that one for me, too. I've sold more paperbacks that way.

Tyrean Martinson said...

That's very true! The same local bookstore owner who has helped me so much has promoted my book to her customers - even when I'm not there! :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

You're welcome and thank you!

Tyrean Martinson said...

I'm glad I can help! It's a tough world out there, and I keep learning as I go.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I have one bookstore that I have a great relationship with and it's because I visit them often. The others are farther out of the way and I haven't been in a while.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks, Natalie!

Tyrean Martinson said...

I'm glad to be helpful. I hope you find a few bookstores nearby.

Tyrean Martinson said...

It really pays off in the long run because people in the community appreciate seeing "local" authors in the bookstore, and it helps get a few more books into the hands of readers. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks, DL!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Those are excellent suggestions. We have two or three indies that do pretty well in our area though the do mostly used book sales. Their owners are all nice and love books and writers.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Never pay them to stock your books. Yes, that's how they make money from the big publishers, but you won't make any money that way.

A very good list of tips, Tyrean.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Number 2 is scary, having been stalked at one time. I like the rest (smile).

Tyrean Martinson said...

Indie bookstores can be gems!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks, Diane!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Ooh, sorry. I didn't mean it in the real, scary way. I probably should revise that phrase to "check them out."

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic advice. I don't know if I'm brave enough to go into a bookstore like that - not that there are any other than college textbook stores in my town - but you've covered this thoroughly.

Heather Holden said...

So much great advice! With how bad my anxiety can get, I don't think I'd ever be brave enough to talk to a bookstore owner like this, heh.

betty said...

Thanks for visiting my blog (A Bench with a View) and your comment. Although I'm not a writer and will never publish a book, this information you shared was interesting. Seems like a good approach to getting the books in the stores.

betty

Alex Hurst said...

Great list! I think it's very important to check out the market before you dive in. Glad you really drove that point home. :)

Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
A-Z Blogging in April Participant

Julie Flanders said...

I love #18 - so true! I have only done this a few times but it was definitely a scary experience. Thank you for sharing this list, all great tips and things to keep in mind if I try this again.

lorilmaclaughlin.com said...

This is great! I'm almost at the point of needing to do this. It's so much easier to do this kind of thing if you can prepare ahead of time. Thanks!!

Maurice Mitchell said...

These are very insightful and I can see it preventing a lot of mistakes especially the "three books" rule.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I was shaking, sweating, and could barely form coherent sentences the first time I talked to a bookstore owner, so I understand. You never know - you might get your courage up!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for visiting, Betty!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Hopefully, I didn't overdo it. Thanks for stopping by, Alex!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Yes, if you've made the leap into the bookstore owner conversation, you definitely need a reward!

Tyrean Martinson said...

You're welcome, Lori.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Yes, it's tempting to bring in the whole box, but even at a book signing it is smart to just bring enough (and have the rest in the car, if needed).

Tyrean Martinson said...

I'm pretty terrified of actually talking to bookstore owners, and I survived. So, you never know . . . you might do this!

L.G. Smith said...

Wow, great advice. I admit I'd be awfully intimidated about walking into a bookstore to see if they'd carry my books (well, you know, if I had any :P). I would make a lousy door-to-door salesman, I know that.

Adam Gaylord said...

I have a book coming out in October and this is super helpful. Thanks!